olympiacos player 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to keep its red-hot run going Thursday night when it takes on Olympiacos Piraeus in Greece.
Maccabi scored the most points of any team on opening night last week in a 95-68 win over Polish champions Prokom Trefl Sopot.
That win was team's 11th in a row in the Euroleague dating back to the last game of the regular season in February.
Olympiacos is a talented team, but wholesale changes in the off-season mean that the players still have little chemistry together, unlike Maccabi, which boasts four starters that have played together now three years in a row.
Many of the Olympiacos players are well-known in Europe, but their is one in particular that is well-known in Israel - Quincy Lewis. The swingman joined Maccabi from the NBA's Utah Jazz in place of Anthony Parker in 2002 when the team underwent a facelift to prepare for the following season's Final Four in Tel Aviv.
The moves were far from successful. Fellow newcomers Beno Udrih and Marcus Goree also had their problems and Maccabi missed the Final Four for the only time in the last six years.
Croatian center Nikola Vujcic, team captain Derrick Sharp and swingman Tal Burstein are the only current Maccabi players to play with Lewis. He averaged 11.3 points in 20 Euroleague games that season.
Now he's playing in the Euroleague for the first time since and he's out to redeem himself against the yellow-and-blue.
Lewis, who during his days in Israel always seemed amused by the passion of the fans, is looking forward to the game. "It's going to be a very difficult game, but it's going to be fun at the same time," he told the Euroleague Web site. "Maccabi is the favorite, but we don't have to be afraid of them. We need to play our basketball and if we manage to beat them, it'll be a great win against a top European club.
"Their biggest advantage is they have played together for many years and I don't think there is much of a change since I played for them two years ago. It's not only Anthony Parker... He definitely is a great player, but he is not the only one... The bottom line is we have to try hard to get a win against Maccabi."
While Lewis may be focused on showing up Parker, Olympiacos ought to keep an eye on Vujcic, who recorded the first triple-double in Euroleague history last week and didn't miss from the field on his way to 20 points against Maccabi Rishon on Monday.
Olympiacos started its EL season last week with an 86-70 loss at Barcelona. Guards Tyus Edney and Nikos Hatzis scored 16 each for the Greeks.
Hatzis is also familiar to Maccabi fans after erupting for 37 points on 7-of-11 from beyond the arc last season when he was with AEK Athens. Edney, 32, remains one of the top playmakers in Europe.
Olympiacos has a formidable front line as well with Andrija Zizic and Lazaros Agadakos. Coach Jonas Kazlauskas also signed Lithuanian center Eurelijus Zukauskas to clog the middle, but the big man hurt his shoulder and will be out for several months.
Maccabi coach Pini Gershon pulled no punches when asked which team is the favorite. "I truly believe we are a better team than Olympiacos, but games on the road are never easy, especially in Greece.
"They have a very good starting five, [but] we have our advantage, comparing our bench players to their guys, and if it goes down to that, I think it is for our favor." Gershon also complimented Edney, calling him "a great playmaker who already won a European title."
One of Gershon's focuses for the start of the season has been to work his newcomers into the squad. It has gone well so far with Kirk Penney and Jamie Arnold scoring 19 and 17 points, respectively in their Euroleague debuts last week and Sharon Shason hitting for 14 off the bench against Rishon.
However, the most important of the first-year players, Will Solomon, is still having trouble locating his shot and his role.
Maccabi may not need Solomon against Olympiacos if Vujcic, Parker, Maceo Baston and Burstein and co continue to play well, but his arrival is greatly anticipated.